The coast of San Pedrito Beach is rocky. Dangerous, even. To the naked sole, the ocean floor is a cobbling of slippery, mismatched stones. from the shore, the cobalt waves meet the pale-blue horizon. The line is taut, perfectly still, broken only by a few specks of color — red, green and yellow wetsuits — bobbing in the water. You hear it before you see it: the roar of the perfect wave gaining speed, heading toward shore …
The surfers paddle on their boards and suddenly — as if by divinity — stand vertical on the water. One surfer in particular truly masters the moment; she appears to float through the neon blue, cutting into the wall of water with perfect precision and speed. A dance, if you will, with the most powerful partner on Earth: Mother Nature.
I can’t look away. My gaze follows the surfer across the towering wave before she falls back into the abyss and emerges with a smile. She looks completely invigorated.
I want that.
It was this scene that kindled my fire three years ago, a fire that only the ocean could extinguish. It has drawn me back to the small town of Pescadero, Mexico, hoping to re-create what I saw on the beach that day. Back then, it took about two hours from Cabo San Lucas to get to town. But time marches on, and so does urban growth. Thanks to the new highway that cuts through the desert landscape, a trip from baggage claim to the boutique resort, Rancho Pescadero, where I stayed on my initial visit, is now a manageable 45 minutes.
My friend Trisha Cole and I arrive at Rancho to find that the new highway isn’t the only thing that has changed. The organic gardens have grown from buds to massive plots of huge peppers, strawberries and poblano chiles visible from the road. Through the tiled, open-air lobby, a paved path winds past 29 boho-chic suites with palapa-covered patios, including the new multitiered suite that houses its own tangerine stucco structure with an intimate rooftop terrace.
Rancho was built just behind rolling sand dunes on a stretch of quiet beach. The location is perfect for an out-of-town surfer: a 10-minute drive leads to Los Cerritos Beach — Mexico’s more friendly surf for beginners — and a 10-minute walk to San Pedrito, a world-class reef break, where the rocky coast thrills the more advanced boarders I remember from years ago.
As Trisha and I settle in at the pool bar with hand-cut tortilla chips and housemade guacamole, we both admit we’re a little nervous for the surf lesson tomorrow morning. Although we have friends who are regular surfers, heading straight into the watery unknown really pushes the comfort bubble for both of us.
“My friend Kristen does aerial yoga because she says she needs more upper body strength to surf,” I say. We both assess our arms.
We say a prayer to the surfing gods.
And order margaritas.
“Oooooo! Check out your cappuccino,” Trisha says.
We’ve just biked to Baja Beans, the open-air coffee shop about a mile from Rancho, for some liquid courage before our surfing lesson.
There appears to be an elephant in the foam.
I take this as a great sign. “It reminds me of the mascot at the University of Alabama,” I say. “And you know their motto: Roll, tide, roll.”
Back at Rancho, we decide to try a different type of liquid courage: a shot of tequila made especially for the resort. We coax Karla, who works concierge for Rancho (and also poured our generous shots), to come with us for more girl power. Plus, Karla knows how to surf, so if we can’t do it, at least one of us will represent.
With the tart taste of fresh lime still lingering on our lips, Mario Becerril, founder and owner of Mario Surf School, pulls up in his white truck. Tall, with a shaved head and chiseled, handsome features, he looks like a badass surfer. I take it upon myself to warn him that my middle name is not “Grace” and that he’s probably going to be disappointed with us.
We pile in the truck, and the questions start: “How long have you been surfing?” (since age 16). “Are there sharks here?” (no). “Where’s your favorite place to surf?” (it’s a secret). “Have you seen Blue Crush?” (What?). “On a scale of 1 to 10, how patient are you?” With a glance in the rearview mirror, Mario says all his students get up during their first lesson.
“Everyone?” I ask. “Everyone,” he says. (OK, maybe there’s an exception or two, but pretty much everyone.)
Mario notes that we are headed to Los Cerritos Beach because there are three tiers of waves; the smaller ones closest to the shore are perfect for beginners. The sandy bottom is ideal for beginners too. “The conditions make Los Cerritos one of the most unique — if not the most unique — spot to surf in Mexico,” he says. “And it’s super safe.”
Maybe it’s the conversation, maybe it’s the tequila, but as we start walking toward the beach where the boards are set up, we are excited to get in the water.
First things first: We must learn the basics. Trisha, Karla and I are introduced to the nose (the front), the body (you get it) and the tail of the board, which has an ankle tether to bond you and the board.
Under the warm Pescadero sun, we look like fish out of water belly down in the sand, pretending to paddle. From the paddle, we get on our knees, then pop either the right or left foot in the center of the board between our hands. (Right foot means you are “goofy”; left foot means you’re regular. Go figure.) From here, you’re moving up from a crouched position and hopefully ripping or slashing — or just surfing at all at that point.
It dawns on me as we are walking out to the water that I haven’t even been in the ocean in the past year. But the roar of the waves is so loud; nothing in my head really matters anymore. The foam of the surf sizzles like 1,000 pieces of bacon behind us.
“Get on the board,” Mario tells me, waist-deep in the water. “Let’s have fun!”
Trisha and her instructor, Chuy Ulises Gonzalez, are to my left. She’s laughing when she gives me thumbs-up. With our wetsuits on, the 75-degree water feels like a giant bathtub.
“Here we go,” Mario says. He turns the board so I’m no longer facing the ocean; I’m looking toward the shore. “Paddle, paddle, paddle!” he yells, pushing me through the water. “Up, up, UP!”
It’s almost an out-of-body experience. Somehow, my knees come together, my foot springs forward, I twist up and I’m standing! I’m surfing!
Onshore, I can see the gentleman who tried to sell us hats earlier (he’s still wearing so many hats)! I can see Chuy’s dog running through the sand. I keep my knees bent and my face to the beach. I ride the wave all the way to the shore and firmly plant my feet on the ocean floor. I quickly collect my board and turn to the water and Mario, remembering the rule: Never turn your back on the ocean.
He gives me a high-five. Maybe I’m a natural, I tell him. “Do you have a pro team here?” I ask casually as we head back into the water. We get in position near Trisha and Chuy, and I watch her get up and ride for a few seconds before falling back. I yell words of encouragement to her because, you know, not everyone is a natural.
Turns out, neither am I. My beautiful beginner’s luck faded into the sunlight along with that wave. Sure, I got up a few more times and had a few good runs, but the next hour went a little more like this:
Mario: “Do you remember where the center of the board is?”
Mario: “Why are you on your tiptoes?”
Mario: “Are you trying to kick me?”
I hear Trisha mutter a few expletives toward the end, and I tell Mario it’s time.
“Well, you’re the best surfer I’ve had from Dallas,” he offers as we (Mario) carries the board back to the beach. I don’t ask if I’m the only one — I know it.
That night, Trisha and I head to dinner at Michael’s at the Gallery on the outskirts of downtown Todos Santos with Rancho’s general manager, Don Morris, and his wife, Kami.
Over crab cakes and Thai green-curry scallops as big as our fists, Kami tells me she taught herself to surf on Los Cerritos Beach. She was Mario’s first female instructor six years ago. “He said, ‘I’ve watched you teach yourself, and I’ll teach you to teach others.’ His school has been really successful — people want to learn the lifestyle here.”
Kami, originally from San Francisco and now a Pescadero resident, notes that Mexico’s climate — along with the size of the waves — is what makes surfing so attractive here. “I remember seeing guys trying to get their girlfriends in the freezing water in California,” she says. “Here, I don’t get in water under 80 degrees!”
Back at the resort, Trisha and I grab a margarita and watch the ocean from my suite’s terrace. We admit — with a tinge of sadness — that we are not leaving our lives and going pro. Tomorrow we will probably need a massage. But for a few brief moments, we danced with the ocean. We rode a wave. We conquered a fear. We had fun. And we are probably Mario’s favorite people ever. “Cheers,” I say, lifting my glass. “And roll, tide, roll!”